London courts lose out as litigants head for regions

There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of writs issued in London's commercial courts over the last two years, according to figures obtained by The Lawyer.

Last year, the number of writs issued dropped 21 per cent to 1,879. For the first four months of this year, the number of writs lodged is 448. If that trend continues, 1999 will see a further fall of 23 per cent.

The figures confirm for the first time the extent of the decline in commercial litigation. Legal experts are putting the fall and the subsequent loss of business down to a variety of factors, including alternative dispute resolution (ADR), a lack of high-profile cases such as BCCI, and a switch to the provinces and foreign courts.

General manager of the ADR Group Andy Butler says: “There has been a concerted campaign by judges in the commercial court to push ADR and mediation. They have been the leaders in this.”

The last nine months have seen a 90 per cent increase in the number of referrals to the ADR Group that have gone on to be successfully mediated.

The perceived cost of litigating in London's Commercial and Admiralty Court is also putting litigants off.

The new mercantile court in Cardiff, due to open in October, is a sign that litigation is increasingly being conducted out of London.

Simon Kamstra, commercial litigation partner with Addleshaw Booth & Co in Leeds, says that not only are provincial firms taking more blue chip work away from London, they are conducting that litigation in the local courts.

A sign of the Leeds mercantile court's success, says Kamstra, is that when it opened, you could secure a hearing date within two weeks. However, the wait is now closer to seven months.

Last week's The Lawyer explained how litigants are now targeting Denmark for cost and strategic reasons.

“In Denmark the courts have fixed fees so it's cheaper to litigate,” said Danish-qualified lawyer Steen Rosenfalck of Osborne Clarke.

See specialist bar, page 28-29